Your Guide to Self-Care on a River Trip
In recent years, “self-care” has emerged as a cultural zeitgeist, and rightfully so. Perhaps never more in history than now have our attention spans been so fractured, our pressures so great, and our commitments so numerous.
For a reprieve from all of this, more and more people are tuning into the incredible healing power of the outdoors. To escape the daily stresses of life, they’re venturing out on multi-day river trips or other wilderness vacations to recharge and rejuvenate.
And while going on a river trip can be the ultimate form of self-care, it’s not a given. For many first-time (and experienced!) rafters, a river trip is a challenge. Think about it. You are out of your element in nearly every possible way: new people, persistent exposure, daily athletic activity, sleeping on the ground, challenging whitewater, new (but delicious!) foods, and a portable toilet system that has an amazing view, but isn’t anything close to what you’re used to at home. Plus, the real biggie, you’re not 100 percent in charge.
Knowing how to make yourself comfortable in this unique environment is the key to unleashing all of the incredible wellness benefits of a river trip. Here are a few things to keep in mind…
Physical self-care first
Though it may seem obvious, physical self-care is paramount to a positive river trip experience. Fill your bottles every time the water station is available, and drink to thirst. Pair this with salty snacks to keep energized. Take care of your skin and eyes, using long layers, sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats.
River trips also necessitate usage from different muscles than day-to-day life. Find a quiet place to do some simple stretches, and appreciate your body for all of its accomplishments and where it has taken you. If you have some weird cricks and kinks, ask your river guide for some body movement advice. We have years of on-the-ground experience and know how to stretch all those awkward paddling muscles.
Engage with the group in a way that’s healthy for you
I am an introvert by birth and an extrovert by training. On the river, we are perpetually entrenched in community. This is great: it leads to fun adventures, engaging discussions, and interpersonal connections. Still, like many people, I struggle with the balance of being perpetually on.
If you too are an introvert, make sure to make some time to be by yourself at camp. Hop on a stand up paddleboard, read a book, write in a journal or find another creative outlet. If you are an extrovert, join the group activities as much as possible. Play every beach game, join the paddle boat every day, or entertain around the campfire. Whichever way you lean, create an environment that allows you to recharge in a way that’s healthy for you.
Acknowledge your fears, but don’t let them control you
Water is powerful and deserves respect. Though negative connotations encumber the word “fear,” it’s a valid explanation for the jumble of heart palpitations, excitement, and nerves all of us feel during uncertain circumstances. These are common feelings on river trips—an unfamiliar environment with objective risks.
It is good to recognize and acknowledge these feelings but try not to be unduly fused with them. We can be scared while still pushing ourselves to do something outside of our comfort zones. That is where growth blossoms.
As one of my first outdoor mentors taught me, self-care is group-care. This is analogous to the line in airline safety talks about putting on your oxygen mask before helping others. If you want to fully experience the magic that happens around day three of a river trip—a mind and body reset—you have to first understand how to best take care of yourself within the whitewater microcosm.
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Photos: Jason Smith (top) & Josh Miller